[Guest Post] Is Being Gay or Bi Enough? The Rise of the Queer Punditocracy

Recently, @msignorile over at @HuffPoGay wrote an article about Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). In the article, he mentions her so-called campaign values – stating she is a pro-equality candidate who cared about the poor and working people – and proceeds to paint her as a Democrat in name only. He attacks her for voting for the government shut down. He slams her for voting to defund Obamacare. He derides her handling of her own sexuality. He talks about plans to primary her out of office, and how we need a real progressive voice in that seat, because clearly, Sinema is a “ConservaDem”. It is not enough for him that “some say” any Democrat is better than a Republican. Oh no, Signorile makes himself an apostle of Howie Klein and Blue America (@downwithtyranny) and ties Sinema’s politics to folks like Christie Quinn. Being gay can’t save you now, my pretty, you’re too far right and must go!
Well and good, but Signorile is offering up perhaps the worst analysis of the political lay of the land in a congressional district I have ever seen.
Before I dismantle Signorile’s half-baked talking points I do want to dally on one issue – he’s breaking his own rule. Signorile is not a politico. Signorile is a member of the New York City queer theorist intelligencia. They fancy themselves the elite of all American gays, and have reserved fully to themselves the right to stand atop their high and mighty ivory towers and lob rhetorical bombs at the rest of us. Now I’ve been the target of those bombs before, and I learned a few things about that crowd. One, they are all lousy shots. Two, their towers are not so high nor mighty as they’ve led themselves to believe. Signorile might think he can be the arbiter of what Sinema should or should not do, but he has no campaign experience, no voting record that will follow him wherever he roams. He’s the sort of political neophyte who has seen “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” a few times too many and has no understanding that the cynical sort of politics he hates is the politics that gets things done. Making policy is like making sausage – don’t watch it close up unless you have a strong stomach. Signorile, and his buddy Klein, have no such stomach.

“Congresswoman Sinema did not vote to ‘shut down the Government’ as Signorile falsely claims.”

Congresswoman Sinema did not vote to “shut down the Government” as Signorile falsely claims. Let’s be honest here, no-one actually voted to shut down the government. Republicans sent a continuing resolution to the Senate with a poisonous pill in it. Yes, there were in fact two Democrats who did vote for House Joint Resolution 59’s original form, Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Mike McIntyre (D-NC). But Signorile argues that there were nine Democrats who voted to shut down the government. False. There were only two. If he needs to crucify Democrats, crucify those two. I can only surmise that Signorile doesn’t do so because they aren’t gay, and apparently only gay politicos matter to a gay pundit. In any regard, a shutdown was a done deal when that first vote happened, and we all knew it. Any one predicting anything else after that first vote should meet with extra scrutiny going forward. By the time Kyrsten cast any other vote, it was entirely too late, but to appease Signorile and to set the record – dare I say – straight, let’s review, shall we?
She voted to kill the medical devices tax, and she voted to delay the tax in the individual mandate by one year. The latter is not surprising. This was the third time she cast the exact same vote for the exact same reason – the exchanges aren’t fully up and running, we’ve delayed the employer mandate, and the tax is technically unable to be collected anyhow, so why not? I fail to see why the Left is having a fit over this. Delaying the tax does not “gut” the law – it delays a tax and slightly increases the deficit. That’s it. The economy is still lousy. We should still be running deficits. This is not a huge amount of revenue, and it is not a permanent sacrifice. Claiming otherwise is breathtakingly dishonest. This allows us to give the poor and working people a year before they pay their penalties, just like we did for the small business employers. They will still have access to their exchanges, and still receive all the benefits. Give ’em one year of all carrot and no stick. Sounds smart to me.

Then there’s the vote to repeal the medical device tax. That tax is hated beyond understanding in Arizona. During the AHCCCS fight (Medicaid, for you non-Arizonans), the medical community agreed to pony up Arizona’s share of the cost of expansion in exchange for us expanding AHCCCS, a proposal brought for by the Republican governor I might add, and it was still an uphill fight to pass that package because it contained a tax. Our wages are low and falling, unemployment remains stubbornly too high, and this electorate is allergic to taxes.
Arizona’s 9th district cuts across central and eastern Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, and Ahwatukee. The Phoenix swath of that district has been known to routinely shoot down taxes for elementary schools. Mesa shoots down every tax its voters have ever seen – they don’t even have a land tax because voters would rather close their libraries half the week than pay taxes. In Ahwatukee, the big issue was the 2% sales tax on food – and voters out there voted for the Tea Party Republican who promised to repeal it immediately. Now tell me, in what reality, in a district that barely leans left, would we want her not to vote on something that could later cost her the seat? And let’s not forget, that bill was DOA the moment it reached the Senate chambers and Kyrsten knew it when she took the vote. It was pure symbolism. And frankly, it was in line with what her district, and her constituents want. I know the people who came out and canvassed and made calls for Kyrsten and they are just as excited and willing to get her elected as they were before. They are not the same people calling for her head in the name of party purity. They are the people who voted for Sinema to do exactly what she promised when she ran for this seat.

“You do not talk about sexuality as a candidate in Arizona — not your own, not your opponent’s, not your running mates. In large part, we can thank Kyrsten for this.” 

Hold on, I can hear the war-drums already, gearing up for Kyrsten’s cardinal sin: Sinema ran “as a pro-equality candidate who cared about the poor and working people”. Not so. Kyrsten did not run as a “pro-equality candidate”. Her sexuality was not an issue in the campaign. Period. You do not talk about sexuality as a candidate in Arizona – not your own, not your opponents’, not your running mates’. In large part we can thank Kyrsten for this. Early in her career when it came up, her response was to dismiss it out of hand with a remark something like, “I am not running as the bisexual candidate, I am running as everybody’s candidate.” Candidates since who have tried to broach the subject find themselves rejected by the voters. And rightfully so.
That said, Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema promised bipartisanship to her constituents in AZ09. She promised moving past the two-party gridlock She promised people over party. Of course she would give up small token things to keep the meat of the ACA intact and keep the government open – that’s what helps the most people. And that’s what compromising, you know, working together, is all about. Kyrsten is sophisticated enough to know this, and act accordingly.
That sort of ability to reach across the aisle and make things move or not move is the record that endeared her to Arizona voters, and apparently horrified Howie Klein. Once upon a time, many moons ago, there was a representative named Frank Antenori, who I’m sure Howie Klein can’t imagine existing. There was also this little bill called SB1070. SB1070 was bad, but the slew of bills coming behind it were downright fascist. One of them was a birthright citizenship bill. It stated that unless your parents had their papers, the State of Arizona would not issue you a birth certificate. In effect, you would be born an undocumented immigrant even if you were born on American soil. Now, Frank Antenori was – and is – a Tea Party darling. But Kyrsten had gotten to know him, and knew a few things about him. 
“She “debates passionately on the senate floor” and then ‘share beers with her colleagues at the end of the day.'”
One thing she learned was that he loved Coca Cola, another was that he was deeply proud of his Italian heritage. So as this awful birthright citizenship bill is nearing the floor of the Senate for a vote, Kyrsten shows up at Frank’s office with a case of Coke, and speaking as his friend asks him to talk. She talks to him about him, talks to him about his own heritage, and he brags about his father, born in a barn, to Italian immigrants. She then reminds him that if the bill pending in the Arizona Senate had been law then, that Frank’s father and thus Frank himself would be undocumented. Shortly thereafter, Antenori became instrumental in killing that bill. Howie Klein apparently thinks that sort of efficacy is horrifying. I think it horrifying that Klein wants to march into my state, buy himself a candidate, and throw out the one I voted for. Remember, the Arizona Republic article that endorsed Kyrsten Sinema for Congress in 2012? In it, it said that she “debates passionately on the senate floor” and then “share beers with her colleagues at the end of the day.” It’s an approach we like in Arizona, because it gets things done, and frankly, it’s what we want in our politicians going forward.
In order for Signorile or Klein to be able to dictate to Arizonans who we in Arizona should vote for, they really need to understand Arizona politics. I wager that they don’t.
First, Arizona voters like iconoclasts. Big names in our local politics are of course Governor Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but we also have Fife Symington and Barry Goldwater to Gabby Giffords and Chad Campbell. Arizona is known for our larger-than-life politicians. Kyrsten is one of them. Klein will be extraordinarily hard pressed to find someone of that stature willing to run against her. If he magically found a, frankly, non-viable candidate, she would of course be forced to campaign, but she will not be unseated in a primary.

“Arizona is known for our larger-than-life politicians.  Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is one of them.”

If we assume for just a moment you could actually primary her out, we very likely could not hold the seat. President Barack Obama won that district with 51% of the vote. Kyrsten Sinema won with a plurality against a Republican opponent who was badly bloodied after his primary, while, Kyrsten remained relatively unscathed from just as competitive of a primary. This would not be the case were she seriously primaried. An out-of-state Super PAC running a “she’s not a real Democrat” campaign could force her to run to the left, possibly too far to the left to win the general. If she loses the primary, I guarantee you her opponent will emerge with his head barely still on his shoulders. With no presidential campaign, more of our general electorate as a percentage will be Republican. After having run as a far left liberal backed with out of state money, any candidate that actually succeeded in this far-fetched idea might as well string himself from the nearest tree and hand the GOP a bat.
Arizona is not California or New York. We do not have California or New York money, because Californians and New Yorkers generally don’t donate to us. Instead, they pull this malarkey on us. We have a real chance to win the Governor’s office, and the Attorney General, but we don’t have resources to waste. We don’t have organizers to spare. If Kyrsten has to aggressively defend herself against a primary challenge, then thanks to Howie Klein and Michelangelo Signorile, resources that ought to go to the Gubernatorial will go to defending Kyrsten. Organizers who ought be free for legislative races will be working for Kyrsten. We do not have a deep bench of Democrats lined up to cover all the bases here, this is no secret. But instead of Blue America asking how they can help, or offering to ship us organizers or donate money, they apparently would rather throw out our candidates. Last I checked, that was the Republican Party’s job.
Now let’s not forget there is the Tea Party. The New Yorker recently did an article showing where the “Suicide Caucus” of the Republican Party lives. All four of Arizona’s Republicans are on that map. Our Governor is Jan Brewer. Our Legislature tried everything from loyalty oaths to ID to pee bills last year. The 20-week ban on abortion was not just submitted in DC by Gosar (R-AZ) but actually passed in Arizona in 2010, two years before it triggered Wendy Davis’s legendary filibuster in Texas.

“Our. Republicans. Are. Crazy.”

Our. Republicans. Are. Crazy. We Arizona Democrats know we’re not perfect, but our opponents are nuts. That’s the picture we’re painting for Arizona voters, and guess what? It’s working. GOP voter registration is down. Democrats are outperforming in non-partisan races (to the tune of winning 80% of them in a state where being a Democrat means you’re part of the third-party) and the high-profile GOP deflections are starting to trickle in. While there is a place for the party purity discussion, and there are values we cannot sacrifice, we must not become as radicalized as the Republican Party we are in the process of taking down.
There is absolutely a party line to be toed – and in Arizona – it is a very fine line. Attempting to purge the party of elected officials who take what truly are Clintonite positions or who engage in Clintonesque triangulation is nowhere near that line. There are far more defective people in the party than Sinema who will soon enough be delicately asked to leave. We do not need, nor want, a hatchet bought with out of state dark money to hack them off for us. If Signorile wants to be helpful, then hand us a scalpel; get to know a few Arizonans, learn that most of our Democrats are common-sense solution driven folk, and target some ape shit Republicans. We got plenty to choose from.
If Michaelangelo Signorile was a politico of any sort worth mentioning, he would do this. He’d realize that talking to Californians about Arizona is just plain dumb. If he knew voter registration numbers or knew a single thing at all about organizational or fiscal strength of the parties at the state level, he’d know better than to breathe word of primarying a Congressional Democrat from Arizona, especially one as pragmatic and constituent focused as Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.
But let’s face it, Signorile is not a politico, he’s just gay. For a candidate, it is not enough to be gay – you also have to be able to win. Unfortunately for Signorile, and pundits alike, it is also not enough to be gay – you have to know what you’re talking about.
by JO HAFFORD. Edited by Ray Ceo Jr. 

Originally published at Daily Kos. Republished with permission from the author.  

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